Islamophobia in France - The Left Paralyzed
John Mullen
Dear comrades,

One year after the vote of a law banning young muslims from wearing their headscarf in schools, it appears that the law has encouraged a much wider expression of islamophobia. There have been a number of violent attacks against mosques. Around fifty young women were expelled from schools after the law passed because of the headscarf, but many many more decided not to go to school any more ‘voluntarily’. Nevertheless, the majority of the young women involved accepted against their will to remove the headscarf. This last fact is being counted as a victory by many, whereas in fact it is a public humiliation of people because of their religious rituals. There have even been cases of young women being asked to shout ‘Long Live the Republic’, after removing their headscarf at the school gates.

Discrimination has spread beyond school pupils. Mothers in many primary and nursery schools in my town and a few others have been banned from accompanying school outings, even though the Minister of Education himself said this was illegal. At universities, in banks, and in police stations, women wearing headscarves have been shown the door. All this is illegal too, but the islamophobes are feeling confident.

Resistance to the law and campaigning against it has been organized around the ‘One school for everybody’ committees, which probably have about five hundred activists around the country. The committees stated from the outset their opposition to anybody being forced to take off a headscarf or to put on a headscarf against their will. Nevertheless, naturally, the committees are caricatured in the press as being ‘pro-headscarf’ or even ‘wanting ethnic war’ as one popular Paris magazine put it.
The left and far left organisations as such have done practically nothing against the law. Some organisations such as Lutte Ouvrière or SOS Racisme support the law, but most are just hopelessly divided and paralysed on this issue, the most emotional issue to hit the left for many decades. So the committees are made up of people coming from minority positions within the Greens, the feminists, and the revolutionary left, as well as by some of the smaller and more left wing muslim organizations (the larger ones being too obsessed by respectability to oppose the law once it had been passed).

Most left wing activists in France hope the question will go away. It won’t though, and the left is in grave need of major clarifications about religion and Islam.
John Mullen (Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, Montreuil, France)

Printed in Socialist Outlook (GB) May 2005

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